Fiona Templeton and Environmental Theater

By Harriet Staff

Douglas Messerli, writer and publisher of Green Integer, has posted on his US Theater blog many poetic playscripts, reviews, and articles surrounding avant-garde and contemporary theater-making--the contents include a number of essays by Messerli himself (who co-edited, with Mac Wellman, From the Other Side of the Century II: A New American Drama 1960-1995); and scripts/pieces by Djuna Barnes, Richard Foreman, Gertrude Stein, Hans Bellmer, Aram Saroyan, Jens Bjørneboe, Henrik Ibsen, and even Oscar Wilde. Over the weekend, Messerli included a longer post reprinted from his Green Integer blog on the work of Mabou Mines' Lee Breuer, as well as a link to Breuer's play Porto Loco.

Messerli also sent us to a PDF of James Sherry's piece on the work of theater practitioner Fiona Templeton, originally published in the journal Postmodern Culture (Sept. 2009). Sherry, publisher of Roof Books, talks about Templeton's work as it relates to a concept of environmental theater. Or moreover, that her "poets theater contributes to an environmental poetics that proposes a significant modification of our engagement with the world." Her play, YOU--The City (1988), was made for an audience of one, and by appointment only, making it a precursor to a "theater of intimacy," a growing trend in downtown theater recently reflected on in the New York Times.

Sherry attempts to connect Templeton's work to other disciplines, recalling that the term "ecopoetics" does just this as it constantly shifts in scope and definition. How Templeton's consideration of audience and character interacts within this poetic framework is certainly interesting! Sherry writes:

From the characters played by the actors or the audience to subject positions within the system, the audience member experiences an oddly disjointed and re-hinged experience of the self. For example, the Manhattan neighborhood becomes an objectified space (ecosystem) in which actors appear and reappear, sometimes changing character between appearances. Many of the actors are seen only once. This continuous variation among actors’ appearances and reappearances in the environmental setting, and on a smaller scale within the various scenes, allows Templeton to treat the individual—actor or performer or accidental neighborhood onlooker—as a metaphor for how the individual organism operates in any ecosystem. The play’s focus on connections helps one understand how an environmentally aware culture that objectifies our interdependence with other organisms and processes might differ from the human-centered perspective that dominates intellectual life.

The full essay can be found here. For a total 180, also check out the Ben Hecht and Maxwell Bodenheim play, "Master Poisoner," from 1918. (Hecht, the "Shakespeare of Hollywood," wrote most of your favorite old movies.)